The Transition is Over

“Transition to democracy” was one of the European politics geek’s terms of art ever since 1989; there’s even an AFOE category devoted to transition and accession to the EU. According to Tim Garton Ash, one of his old dissident friends kept a large file of documents under the rubric “TD”; he suggested, wisely, that it ought to have been TC, for “Transition from Communism”. There’s even Transitions Online.

The transition is over. It’s now clear that even the aspiration for it in Russia is dead; the “administrative resources” are now aiming for a one-party Duma. TOL itself is more optimistic; they reckon there is a chance for a significant Communist revival, which would at least mean the opposition was a real, existing political party. However, who can do anything but laugh at the thought of e-voting in Russia? E-voting everywhere else in the world has been bad enough, and its well-publicised fiascos will deaden any criticism of Russia’s version.

It’s the end of an era. Earlier this week, I watched a BBC documentary about the shutdown of the BBC World Service’s programmes in Central and Eastern Europe; a whole microculture of Polish and Bulgarian broadcasters in West London signing off. They, of course, can claim that it’s mission accomplished, especially as the Kazcynski Kidz lost the elections.

The next point to watch here is the fate of the OSCE, and specifically its office of democratic institutions and human rights; Putin has promised to “reform” it. (As you know, Bob, AFOE hates the word “reform”.) It should be pretty clear what “reform” will consist of; a dictators’ club veto on publishing anything critical. This is something that badly wants watching, as I doubt there is much political will in the West to keep it going.

If we want to take the EU as a magnet for democracy, peace, and other good stuff – basic norms of civilised behaviour – ODIHR needs either support, or else to be transferred into the competence of the European Union, safe from post-Soviet vetoes or US fiddling.

From Vancouver to Vladivostok

Not unlike the cold old days, the US and Russia have been at odds over the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). At the recent ministerial meeting in Brussels (Belgium currently has the OSCE’s rotating chairmanship), the Russian ambassador complained about an imbalance in the Organisation’s work, specifically that too much emphasis was being put on the “human dimension.” That’s an OSCE bit of jargon that covers things like free and fair elections, protection of human rights and so forth. (This was all reported in the German newspaper whose web site could be better organized, page 6 of the December 5 edition, but can one find the article on said web site? No. Try here, instead, as long as the link lasts.)

Ambassador Lavrov said that the OSCE should give equal focus to the military and economic aspects of security and cooperation in Europe. This is kind of a nutty thing for a Russian ambassador to be saying.
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Spheres of Influence.

The Ukrainian parliament remained deadlocked today with respect to the issue of linking electoral rules and constitutional changes to limit the future President’s powers (Reuters), despite the alleged agreement in yesterday’s round-table talks.

Hoping to be able to avoid the constitutional curtailing of the future President’s powers, Yushchenko’s supporters insisted on two separate votes today. The Kyiv Post quotes Yulia Tymoshenko –

“We won’t vote for any package deals,”

In addition, President Kuchma declared that the Yushenko camp stalled the negotiations by insisting on the government’s dismissal, before making a half-hearted move in that direction. Reuters notes that he issued a decree on Tuesady appointing Finance Minister Mykola Azarov as acting premier, due to Mr Yanukovich’s “decision” to concentrate on campaigning for the run-off election. The Kyiv Post speculates this might be a move indicating Kuchma’s willingness negotiate the opposition’s demand to fire Mr Yanukovich, quoting Mikhail Pogrebinsky, an analyst with supposed close ties to the outgoing President.

“Kuchma … has been slowly taking a step back every day.”

Although the newspaper also notes that, despite increasing lack of political allies, there might be an unexpected legal obstacle to Mr Yanukovich’s removal: apparently Ukrainian law bans the dismissal of presidential candidates from their jobs.

While legal issues are certainly important, they aren’t the only locus of political power in Ukraine these days., in fact, not even the most important. The prosecutor general?s office might threaten Yushchenko with an investigation for treason with respect to his aggressive interview in the British Sunday Telegraph (Maidan), but how much weight does that carry in light of his supporters’ determination to eventually end the deadlock, on way or another (Kyiv Post)

“We have been peaceful so far, [but if Yushchenko wants to force Kuchma to concede defeat] we are ready.”

Meanwhile, the OSCE’s ministerial meeting in Bulgaria saw a clash of Russia and the US over Ukraine, and accordingly failed to even reach the consensus needed for a final declaration (despite reaching agreement on 20 specific, low-profile, proposals). In light of the events in Ukraine, Russia refused OSCE demands to honor pledges to withdraw its troops from Moldova and Georgia. Accordingly, Powell reiterated that the US would not ratify the 1999 treaty about mutually agreed reduction of conventional forces in Europe (CFE), until Russia withdraw its troops from Georgia and Moldova. (AFP)

The Russian foreign minister repeated the Russian dissatisfaction with the OSCE’s role as election monitor. He could not resist to mention the many irregularities in recent American elections, stating that the OSCE was guilty of a double standard.

Trying to put the row into perspective, speaking to AFP, Dmitry Trenin, deputy head of the Carnegie Endowment for Peace’s Moscow office, remarked that Putin

“ha[d] suffered a personal political setback in Ukraine and he is very angry … I do not think this can be a good thing for anybody.”

Mr Tremin interprets yesterday’s angry statement by Mr Putin as a veiled concession of defeat. He may have hoped to be able to reach an agreement with the West, particularly the United States, profoundly misjudging the West’s ability to trade anything in this matter. Mr Trmin blames the current Kremlin’s decision making structure that he claims is “restricted to a narrow circle” for much of the recent Russian lack of geopolitical realism. The Kyiv Post has more thoughts on this matter.

The FT notes that, despite growing concern with respect to Russia’s Democracy, Washington still believes Mr Putin had not yet crossed a red line, understanding – used to President Bush’s often blunt statemtents aimed at a domestic audience – that much of President Putin’s harsh words is not just informed by his personal disappointment and KGB-socialisation, but also by the need to keep Russian conservatives happy by restating their believes about American meddling in allegedly Russian affairs.